ERFURT lies in the southern part of the Thuringian Basin, within the wide valley of the Gera river. It is located 100 km (62 mi) south-west of Leipzig, 300 km (186 mi) south-west of Berlin, 400 km (249 mi) north of Munich and 250 km (155 mi) north-east of Frankfurt. Together with neighbouring cities Weimar and Jena it forms the central metropolitan area of Thuringia with approximately 400,000 inhabitants.
Erfurt's old town is one of the most intact medieval cities in Germany, having survived World War II with very little damage. Tourist attractions include the Krämerbrücke (Merchants' bridge), the ensemble of Erfurt Cathedral and Severikirche (St Severus's Church) and Petersburg Citadel, the only extensively preserved baroque town fortress in central Europe.
The city's economy is based on agriculture, horticulture and microelectronics. Its central location has led to it becoming a logistics hub for Germany and central Europe. Erfurt hosts the second-largest trade fair in eastern Germany (after Leipzig) as well as the public television children’s channel KiKa.
The city is situated on the Via Regia, a medieval trade and pilgrims' road network. Modern day Erfurt is also a hub for ICE high speed trains and other German and European transport networks.
Erfurt was first mentioned in 742, as Saint Boniface founded the diocese. Although the town did not belong to any of the Thuringian states politically, it quickly became the economic centre of the region. It was part of the Electorate of Mainz during the Holy Roman Empire, and later became part of the Kingdom of Prussia in 1802. From 1949 until 1990 Erfurt was part of the German Democratic Republic (East Germany).
Notable institutions in Erfurt are the Federal Labour Court of Germany, the University of Erfurt and the Fachhochschule Erfurt (University of Applied Sciences).
The university was founded in 1379, making it the first university to be established in geographic area which constitutes modern day Germany. It closed in 1816 and was re-established in 1994, with the main modern campus on what was a former teachers' training college. Martin Luther (1483 - 1546) was the most famous student of the institution, studying there from 1501.
Other famous Erfurters include the medieval philosopher and mystic Meister Eckhart (c. 1260-1328), the Baroque composer Johann Pachelbel (1653-1706), the sociologist Max Weber (1864-1920), rapper Clueso (Thomas Hübner) (1980- ), and Gunda Niemann (1966- ), three-times Olympic speed skating gold-medal winner.
Erfurt is an old Germanic settlement. The earliest evidence of human settlement dates from the prehistoric era; archaeological finds from the north of Erfurt revealed human traces from the paleolithic period, ca. 100,000 BC. The Melchendorf dig in the southern city part showed a settlement from the neolithic period. The Thuringii inhabited the Erfurt area ca. 480 and gave their name to Thuringia ca. 500.
In 1501 Martin Luther (1483 - 1546) moved to Erfurt and began his studies at the university, finishing in 1509 with a doctorate degree. After 1505, he lived in the Augustinian Monastery. In 1507 he became a priest at Erfurt Cathedral. He moved to Wittenberg in 1511. His Protestant Reformation found its way to Erfurt in 1521.
In 1530, the city became one of the first in Europe to be officially bi-confessional with the Hammelburg Treaty. It kept that status through all the following centuries. The later 16th and the 17th century brought a slow economic decline of Erfurt. Trade shrank, the population was falling and the university lost its influence. The city's independence was endangered. In 1664, the city and surrounding area were brought under the dominion of the Electorate of Mainz and the city lost its independence. The Electorate built a huge fortress on Petersberg hill between 1665 and 1726 to control the city and instituted a governor to rule Erfurt.
During the late 18th century, Erfurt saw another cultural peak. Governor Karl Theodor Anton Maria von Dalberg had close relations with Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Friedrich Schiller, Johann Gottfried Herder, Christoph Martin Wieland and Wilhelm von Humboldt, who often visited him at his court in Erfurt.